Pastor, Church & Law

Who May Attend

§ 06.12.06

Key point 6-12.06. Whether or not a church can prevent an individual from attending a membership meeting will depend on the provisions of the church’s governing documents as well as the system of parliamentary procedure adopted by the church.

Who is entitled to be present at a church meeting? Who may lawfully be excluded? These questions often cause confusion, particularly in the context of schismatic churches in which one or more factions desire to prevent attorneys, news media personnel, or members of the public from attending. The following considerations will determine to what extent a church can exclude nonmembers from attending church membership meetings:
First, the charter, constitution, and bylaws of the church should be consulted to determine if they address the question. Ordinarily, they do not.

Second, determine what body of parliamentary procedure the church has adopted. Many systems of parliamentary procedure permit nonmembers to be excluded from a membership meeting. One authority states the rule as follows:

Nonmembers, on the other hand—or a particular nonmember or group of nonmembers—can be excluded any time from part or all of a meeting of a society, or from all of its meetings. Such exclusion can be effected by a ruling of the chair in cases of disorder, or by the adoption of a rule on the subject, or by an appropriate motion as the need arises—a motion of the latter nature being a question of privilege.420 ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER NEWLY REVISED § 61 (11th ed. 2011).

Third, many states and the federal government have enacted public meeting laws which generally provide that meetings of specified governmental agencies, commissions, and boards, at which official acts are taken, must be open to the public. Such laws, often called sunshine acts, ordinarily do not apply to private, nonprofit organizations,421 See, e.g., Marston v. Wood, 425 So.2d 582 (Fla. App. 1982) (public meeting law did not apply to a law school committee organized to select a new dean); Perlongo v. Iron River Co-op TV Antenna Corp., 332 N.W.2d 502 (Mich. App. 1983) (state public meeting law did not apply to a nonprofit, nonstock corporation).and they certainly do not apply to entities, such as churches, receiving no tax revenues and having no regulatory authority or relationship with any governmental body. The fact that a church is incorporated will not subject it to the provisions of public meeting laws.422 Perlongo v. Iron River Co-op TV Antenna Corp., 332 N.W.2d 502 (Mich. App. 1983).

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